Over the course of your friendship with the late John Sanford (1904-2003), you fell into the habit, when meeting him by accident, of quoting the opening phrase of the first sentence of a book, which was more than a book, written by a medical doctor who was more than a medical doctor.
Monday, July 18, 2016
Sunday, July 17, 2016
There are times during classroom situations where you will find yourself telling a group of students that story is not the most important thing in a dramatic narrative. If appropriate, you will go on to say there are only two or three basic story matrices, perhaps as many as four or five.
You're reminded of this because, as recently as this morning, you found yourself expressing these sentiments in conversation, hoping to seal your argument with the observation, "Most readers don't read for story in the first place."
This caused only a slight lifting in question of an eyebrow. You were quick to fill in the belief that most significant readers, by which you mean at least six books a year, have enough story sense to be able to know what's coming next in any particular dramatic narrative.
"What then?" your audience asked. "Why do readers read?"
This stopped you in your tracks for a brief moment because you've long been aware of the major reason you took with such enthusiasm to reading.
You were bored. You wanted if not outright thriller-tale adventure, then at least transportation to a setting or situation where you were transported to another place, another time, or a combination of both. Your pause this morning was to assess the extent this reason had undergone change over the years.
Although these days it is a rare moment in which you find yourself bored, nevertheless the idea of transportation to another time or place still holds up. Of course you add irony as a significant ingredient, coming as it does in waves as an individual, a group of individuals, and indeed an organization or institution will profess to one attitude or goal, then perform in an opposite manner.
You want men and women who are anti-heroic, afflicted with some flaw in exaggerated presence. Least of all do you want ordinary characters, individuals who are tangible in their normality. You don't object to a character wishing for normality or considering him/herself to be normal, that is, so long as their behavior does not come through as normal.
And yet, with all this willingness to set story aside for the quirks of an interesting character, you often find yourself asking, "Where's the story?" In short, you want your characters to be moving about, doing things, however delusional or self-wounding rather than having long conversations reminiscent of Socratic dialogue.
You want characters to define themselves through the things they do, the things they avoid, the things they fear or for which they harbor an intense desire.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
You're served as a juror enough times and seen sufficient courtroom dramas to be familiar with that idealized state of being free from doubt. To seal the bargain, you've been free of doubt enough times outside the courtroom or, indeed, the courtroom drama to appreciate the glorious extent of being in this state of doubtlessness.
Friday, July 15, 2016
You were well into your tenure at the Professional Writing Program at USC and as the leader of the late night fiction workshop for the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference, owned and run by your great pal, Barnaby Conrad. Your classrooms at USC changed from room to room and, in fact, building to building, depending on University whim and, to a degree, on the amount of money via enrollments your department brought in.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Bedroom communities are to suburban landscapes what freckles are to skin, splotches of residential areas to which persons commute after working or otherwise spending their time in cities. Santa Barbara reminds you of its status in the bedroom community calculus each time you find yourself southbound during morning or afternoon commuting hours.
In the mornings, a trail of traffic heads north like a platoon of army ants, advancing on some neglected croissant or the remains of a spontaneous picnic, left for the army ants and as well one or more persons heading from their own southern bedroom communities to perform service for the recent revelers.
From about three in the afternoon until at least six, the road south moves at the next step downward from a snail's pace, which is to say a timid snail's pace.
This is not to claim there is no industry in Santa Barbara. One of its major sources of employment is the renowned Sansum Clinic, where doctors, technicians, and laboratory professionals orbit about yet another type of bedroom community, the two-campus Cottage Hospital.
Another local draw from regions to the north and south is a campus of the University of California, UCSB, metastasizing as though a stage-IV cancer, lodged in some body part.
People come to the bedroom community that is Santa Barbara as a respite from San Francisco and Los Angeles on the state level, from such eastern hubs as Boston, Washington D.C., and New York, more than likely disenchanted with these hubs and yet still tending to look down on the new Eden of their choice as a 24/7 city wannabe.
People come here to sleep the Santa Barbara sleep, dream the Santa Barbara dreams, think kind thoughts about palm trees, and develop the California tolerance for the ubiquitous jacaranda trees after they have shed their flowery purplish blossom. They will even get behind some of the Spanish pronunciation for such place names as Ray-foo-he-o for Refugio, Santa Enayze for Ynez, and hackarunda (wrong) for jacaranda.
With the exception of the month of June, which attracts a coastal phenomena of overcast known as June gloom, Santa Barbara is often sunny, cheerful, and polite, reflective of the many individuals in service industries who come here to work before going home elsewhere, say Carpinteria or Ventura or Camarillo, to sleep.
Where one sleeps here and with whom (if anyone) are matters you'd expect in a bedroom community, to say nothing of the quality of sleep achieved here, once it is realized.
Your fiction in progress is a rumination on such things, including the latter aspect. Quality seems always an issue of some sort in bedroom communities. Do the persons who come here to escape from urban tangle and the traffic of city irony sleep any better now?
Your work on this fiction has been interrupted by something that has taken your talk of Santa Barbara Dreams hostage, demanding as ransom the new work.Thus are you in a real sense, a commuter, stuck somewhere past Carpinteria in traffic, attaching to Santa Barbara sleep a mystique of comfort and satisfaction every bit as long and uncertain as the line of traffic before you.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
In the process of revising a suspected repetition in your current longform project, you stumble instead over the roots of a narrative truth you'd lost sight of in the abundant tool kit of narrative truths.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Given your present age and such degree of mental acuity as you at the moment have, there would be no surprise if you were to come upon a red signal light, then stop your forward progress, nor would your judgement or behavior be questioned were you to regard a red flag as some form of warning.